Whenever I think of my grandmother, known to the family as Mommy Pat, I inevitably start to crave her fried chicken. My mother made fried chicken that was very fine in its own way, but we all agreed the best was my grandmother's.
When she married my grandfather — we called him Daddy Pat — she was a young bride from Virginia who followed him to China, where they were Presbyterian missionaries for decades. Somehow, she became fluent in Chinese and raised three children in that foreign land. She also learned to cook according to Chinese ways, but she kept to her Southern roots once she returned to the States and entertained her brood, which included a passel of grandkids by that time, whenever we'd travel to their home, which at that time was in Bluefield, West Virginia.
Breakfasts and dinners were usually on the light side, but it was at lunch, especially on Sundays, that she'd pull out her large cast-iron skillet, a tub full of lard and several small chickens that she'd cut up with a big knife sharp enough to handle the task at hand. We all waited patiently for her perfect fried chicken with her yummy creamy chicken gravy over mashed potatoes.
Her recipe has been passed around the family for years. It looks long and involved, mainly because there are instructions for cutting up the chicken: a process that's pretty straightforward to do and only requires a little patience — and a big sharp knife.
The reason for the instructions on cutting up the chicken is because doing so, you can get smaller pieces than those huge chicken pieces you buy individually. Smaller pieces means even frying. This is not the kind of recipe that can be made on moment's notice. It needs to soak in a salty brine overnight.
Sunday Fried Chicken
1 small frying chicken, 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
1 3/4-2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons for the gravy
Lard or vegetable oil, for frying
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups whole milk
Lay the chicken flat on its back, and bend back a leg. Under its skin you'll see the line where the thigh muscles join the hip. Cut through this line, bend back the leg and cut through the hip joint. Lay it flat on the work surface, outer side down, and look for the line in the muscle that is the joint between the thigh and drumstick. Cut through it with a sharp knife. Repeat with the other leg.
Cut through the wing joint, and remove the wings, then cut off the wing tips. The rib cage has joints along both sides: cut through them with kitchen shears or a knife. Bend back the breast until the joints at the shoulder are exposed, and cut through them with a sharp knife. Discard the back or save it for stock.
Lay the breast skin side up on the board, and feel for the hard knot at the top of the breast, which is the tip of the wishbone. Cut through this with a sharp knife, and carefully cut along the edge of the top of the ribs until the wishbone and the meat attached to it is separated. Cut through the joints on each leg of the wishbone or snip them with shears. Now turn the breast over and chop it in half at the keel bone, then cut each breast in half crosswise.
To make brine, put 4 cups cold water in a large bowl, and add a very small handful of salt. Stir until the salt dissolves, and add the chicken. The liquid should completely cover it. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for 6-8 hours. Let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to up 1 hour before frying.
Meanwhile spread the flour on a large plate. Fit a wire cooling rack into a rimmed baking sheet. Put at least 1/2 inch of lard or oil in a deep, well-seasoned cast-iron skillet that's at least 12 inches in diameter and is fitted with a lid. Turn the heat to medium, and let it heat until it is hot but not yet smoking. Drain the chicken, and pat it dry. Liberally season it with salt and pepper. Raise the heat under the pan to medium-high. Lightly roll the drumsticks in flour, shake off the excess and slip them into the pan. Repeat with the thighs, then the wings. Finish with the breast pieces, adding the smallest ones last.
Let it fry until it's lightly browned on the bottom, about 4 minutes, turn, and brown the second side. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and carefully spoon all but about 1/8 inch of the fat into a heatproof container. Make a space at the center and, standing clear, carefully pour in about 1/4 cup of water. Immediately cover the pan, and cook, turning the chicken once more, until it's cooked through, about 20 minutes longer.
Remove the lid, raise the heat to medium-high, and if needed, add a little of the fat back to the pan. Cook, turning once more until the chicken is crisp, 2-5 minutes longer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and lift each piece of chicken, beginning with the breast pieces, and let it drain over the pan, then transfer it to the prepared wire rack. Let it drain for a couple of minutes before transferring it to a serving platter.
For the gravy: Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat, return the pan to the heat, and sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of flour. Using a flat whisk or wooden spoon, stir until it's smooth and lightly browned. Slowly whisk or stir in the milk, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any cooking residue. Bring it to a simmer, and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Reduce the heat to low, season it well with salt and pepper, and let it simmer 4-5 minutes. Turn off the heat, and pour the gravy into a heated sauce boat to serve over rice or mashed potatoes.
Miller's Ale House, with locations at 2119 Gunbarrel Road and 574 Northgate Mall Drive, has added six new permanent additions to its menu.
— Filet mignon: A tender, 8-ounce center cut, filet mignon topped with melted garlic butter and served with vegetable medley and choice of one side. It's priced at about $20.
— Strip steak: A tender choice cut strip served with vegetable medley and choice of one side, $25.
— Lobster ravioli: Lobster ravioli cooked with tomato cream sauce, breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese and served on garlic spinach, $20.
— Chicken scampi pasta bake: Grilled chicken breast, tomatoes, broccoli, creamy garlic scampi sauce, corkscrew pasta, topped with Mozzarella Parmesan and toasted breadcrumbs, $15 (add another couple of bucks for seared shrimp).
— Zingers Tikka wrap: The popular chicken wings tossed in chili lime seasoning served on a seared flour tortilla with cilantro mint aioli and sauteed peppers and onions, $12.
— Sticky ribs: Flash-fried ribs tossed in 818 Tequila barbecue sauce and served with crispy onions and scallions, $13.50.
They all sound delicious, so that means several trips to try them all!
Scooter's Coffee is celebrating National Coffee Day (Sept. 29) all month long by offering free, fresh-brewed coffee every day in September. Start your day by ordering any size of fresh-brewed hot coffee for free, whether it's medium or dark roasts or the Scooter's Coffee popular flavors of Caramelicious, Scooter Doodle or French vanilla.
Scooter's has three locations in the Chattanooga area: 7318 Shallowford Road, 4631 Highway 58 and 9395 Apison Pike in Ooltewah.
The Fresh Market is helping with the fight against hunger this month and asking shoppers to do the same by rounding up their total to the nearest dollar or by making a donation at the register. All proceeds will be donated to Feeding America, a nonprofit nationwide network of food banks.
In addition, 90% of what each Fresh Market store raises from the roundup goes toward supporting the store's partner food bank, in this case, the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, to help feed people in their community.
It doesn't take much to help, but it certainly goes a long way toward helping. Chattanooga's Fresh Market is at 2288 Gunbarrel Road.